Oldham, part of the game for 102 years, are on the brink of extinction after going into voluntary liquidation with debts estimated at more than pounds 1m.
The club, founder-members of the Rugby League in 1895, have been in financial trouble since losing their Super League status by finishing last in this year's competition.
Players have not been paid and talks with businessmen said to be interested in taking over the club have broken down. Administrative staff were made redundant yesterday.
"It is a cruel blow for the players and supporters of the Oldham club," said the League's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay. "We are particularly disappointed as only at the end of August we advanced pounds 280,000 to assist them through the winter and to pay players' outstanding wages."
Lindsay said he had tried, without success, to speak to Jim Quinn, the club's chairman, and that the League would hold the players' registrations until they found new clubs - or until someone comes forward with a rescue package.
Other clubs have gone into liquidation and lived to fight another day but Oldham's plight is acute. Their main asset, their Watersheddings ground, has already been sold and is being transformed into a housing estate, while the cost of continuing to play at Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park will be prohibitive on the modest gates that can be expected in the First Division.
Selling their more valuable players is one potential source of relief but those players were already claiming that they should become free agent because their wages had not been paid even before yesterday's liquidation.
St Helens have already signed two Oldham forwards, Brett Goldspink and Paul Davidson, but have paid no transfer fees. Goldspink is under a Super League contract that has simply been re-assigned while no fee has yet been agreed for Davidson.
"Davidson is out of contract on 31 December and we have registered him from 1 January," said Saints' chief executive, David Howes. "We made an offer for him which was turned down and we are now waiting for advice from the League about Oldham's situation."
Meanwhile, St Helens have been preparing for this morning's clash with Brisbane Broncos with Andy Haigh coming into the squad for the injured Keiron Cunningham. Paul Anderson will be at hooker, a position he has filled occasionally in the reserve team.